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Do you love Me?

John 21

[15] When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

[16] Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

[17] The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

After breakfast Jesus began a conversation with Peter aimed at reconciliation. Jesus had already reached out in fellowship to Peter in spite of the denials. This is grace. Peter did not have to earn or deserve a place at the breakfast. But in response to the grace extended something more was needed. Peter needed to clear up the matter of his sin so that it would not be repeated.

The wording of the first question, "Do you truly love me more than these?" contains an ambiguity. There are three possible understandings:

- Do you love me more than these other men do?

- Do you love me more than you love these men?

- Do you love me more than these things or way of life--the nets, the boat, the water and the fish?

Jesus probably was not concerned with comparing Peter’s love for Him to the love of the other disciples for Him. But Jesus was concerned for Peter to clarify some things in His life. The three denials were a painful episode that needed to be resolved. Sin does not just go away. It cannot be brushed aside. Confession and repentance are the only remedy. These questions tenderly probe Peter’s relationship with the Lord.

There were reasons that Peter denied Jesus at the critical moments of the trial. We don’t really know what those reasons were but they needed to be exposed, confessed, and repented in some way. It may have been that in those moments of denial Peter loved his own life more than He loved Jesus. Peter would never have admitted this, but actions often reveal the truer attitude of the heart.

In this conversation, two different words for love are used. In Jesus' first two questions, the word ‘agapao’ is used and ‘phileo’ is used in His third question. Peter consistently uses ‘phileo’ in his three replies.

Agapao is the same word "love" that appears in John 3:16 and describes divine, absolute or unconditional love. Phileo implies affinity, friendship, and fondness. Both words represent a high aspect of love and are both used of God. Still, there seems to be a nuance in the conversation because of Peter’s refusal to answer with the same word that Jesus used. Jesus finally lowered his query to use the word Peter used. It runs something like this…

“Do you truly, absolutely love (agape) me more than these?”

“Well, you know that I have great affinity, friendship and fondness (phileo) for you.”

“Feed my lambs.”

“But do you truly, absolutely love (agape) me?”

“Of course you know that I have affinity, friendship and fondness (phileo) for you.”

“Then take care of my sheep.”

“But Peter, do you really have affinity, friendship and fondness (phileo) for me?”

“You know all things. You know that I love (phileo) you.

“Then feed my sheep.”

We might be critical of Peter but we really should respect His honesty. When asked directly by the Lord in the presence of witnesses, Peter searched his heart and confessed what was there. It may be that the “denial” experience revealed to him the truth about his need to grow in love for Jesus.

This text always raises the question of how such a conversation would go in our own lives. If we insert our name into the query, what sort of answers do we come up with?

1) Do I love Jesus more than “these”? Whatever “these” may be, have these taken the place of Jesus in my life? Do I love my job, life, stuff, career, family, church or anything more than Jesus?

2) If Jesus were to ask if I truly and absolutely love Him, would I have to confess that my life actions only testify that I am a “good friend” (phileo) but do not reveal absolute true love (agapao)? Do I have affinity, friendship and fondness for Jesus but not absolute true love?

Lord, I confess that I have not loved You with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. Put Your love in me, that I may grow to love You more fully. In Jesus’ name.